Going through a divorce is enough to throw anybody off balance. But when there is a power imbalance in the relationship, everything becomes that much more difficult. So what exactly is a power imbalance? What causes a power imbalance in a divorce? And most importantly, how can you successfully handle power imbalances when you are going through a divorce? These questions will form the basis of this discussion, helping you first of all to recognize if this is something you are experiencing, and then to decide what you can do about it.
What exactly is a power imbalance?
Marriage is a partnership between two equals. Although these two partners are completely different, separate and unique individuals, their worth and value as spouses is the same. In a healthy marriage the husband and wife will work together to make the best of their relationship. They discuss any issues they may have and they reach decisions together. If they can’t agree they will decide on a workable compromise. When there is a power imbalance, however, one spouse has control over the other in some way. The more ‘powerful’ spouse forces his or her will on the other and it’s a case of ‘my way or the highway.’
When it comes to reaching a settlement during divorce proceedings, a power imbalance can result in one spouse ending up much worse off than the other. What happens is that the more powerful spouse calls all the shots and decides who gets what while the less powerful spouse must take it or leave it. This can make the already traumatic situation extremely unfair, but with the help of a wise and astute mediator it is possible to have a better and more equitable outcome.
What causes a power imbalance in a divorce?
The causes and forms of power imbalances in a divorce are many and varied. It is extremely common to find that there is some or other power struggle going on during a divorce. Here are a few examples of the more usual ones:
- Finances: When one spouse has been earning more than the other they may have greater knowledge and control over the marital income and assets. An example of this may be in the case of a stay-at-home-mom whose husband is the main breadwinner.
- Relationship with children: If the children have greater loyalty to one parent rather than the other, this would result in a power imbalance with the ‘more loved’ parent being in the more powerful position.
- Disengagement or emotional investment in the marriage: The spouse who is already disengaged from the marriage would have more power over the one who is still emotionally invested and wants to try and save the relationship.
- Dominating and aggressive personality: When one spouse overpowers the other by sheer force of their personality, there is definitely a power imbalance. The overpowered one can usually feel intimidated into agreeing because they know what will happen if they don’t.
- Abuse, Addictions or Alcoholism: If any of these are present in the relationship and they have not been addressed and treated, there will be power imbalance issues during the divorce.
- What are some tips for handling a power imbalance during a divorce?
- If you have recognised any of the above scenarios it would be good to ask yourself how exactly these power imbalances may be affecting your divorce proceedings. If you feel that you would come off as the weaker partner, you may want to consider making a careful search for a suitable mediator. It is also recommended to have a consulting attorney to provide extra support, as well as any pre-mediation coaching that is available.
- A mediator who is aware of power imbalances can take several steps to facilitate the fairness of the proceedings as follows:
- The use of neutral experts: By suggesting that the parties use neutral experts, the mediator can ensure that an objective report is received. For example a child psychologist can provide insights regarding custody options for the children, while a financial advisor can give a summary of the marital finances.
- Preventing domination: During the mediation it is important for the mediator to set the tone for the conversation and insist on certain ground rules being followed. This is to prevent any domination taking place where one spouse has a stronger and more domineering personality. If one person is not getting a chance to speak, or is appearing defeated and fatigued, the good mediator will call a timeout and perhaps suggest further coaching before resuming mediation.
- Dealing with difficult issues: through mediation it is possible to find mutually beneficial solutions despite the often highly emotional content of many issues surrounding the divorce. The mediator can help to diffuse the emotions and perceptions of power imbalances by carefully talking through the difficult issues.
- Knowing when mediation is not helping: Sometimes there comes a point where any further mediation is not possible. This can happen when the power imbalance is affecting the situation to such an extent that one or both spouses is not able to participate effectively. This can be the case where there is abuse, untreated addictions or alcoholism.
Another kind of power imbalance which sometimes occurs during a divorce is when a shift of power takes place between parents and children. With the turmoil and changes which a divorce inevitably brings, it is essential for parents to maintain their parenting role for the safety and security of their children. What often happens is that parents slip into the role of trying to be ‘friends’ with their children rather than exercising their responsible parental power.
The way to prevent this kind of power imbalance from happening in your home after the divorce would be to make sure you have clear goals and values. Set definite expectations for your children and discuss the rules and regulations you want them to keep, as well as the rewards or consequences which will result if they do or don’t meet the expectations.